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A vision for the teacher in me

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Meenakshi Gupta

The word ‘educator’ brings images of hundreds of thousands of children growing and learning with their teachers. An educator has huge social and moral responsibility. She is a mixture of various roles and personalities like of a mother, a guide, a visionary, a friend, and sometimes an elder brother or sister.

As I read and think about great teachers like Aurobindo, the Mother, Tagore, Gandhi and Krishnamurti, I try to imagine how much hard work, especially on the self, is needed for one to become a teacher. An educator first knows herself, seeks how she learns in different phases of life, dwells on what constitutes learning and teaching, what is knowledge, and the various ‘how’s and ‘why’s of education. It seems to require a lot to be a teacher. I can say that to be like an educator is almost like being a yogi.

My fears

On one hand, becoming an educator is my aspiration. It comes from an inner wish, an inner voice that tells me to do something for the joyful and true learning of children. I like to be surrounded by a lot of children and interact with them. But as I mentioned earlier, being a teacher is an enormous responsibility. I carry a fear whether I will be able to do justice to that responsibility. Since we are all products of our conditioning, we often behave in ways that we have learned in our childhood and what we see around us. Will I be able to undo the effect of such conditioning? Will I be able to unlearn old practices so I can open up to a more integrated approach to learning? Will I be able to carry with me a flexible mind?

There are many more fears. Being a teacher will require full alertness and persistent patience to listen to each child. I fear that some of my words or behaviour may damage the child’s feelings or self-esteem. I fear that I might not be able to give them sufficient freedom and opportunity to explore, make mistakes and learn thereafter. I fear whether I’ll be able to connect their previous learnings to their immediate environment, providing them with relevant contexts or prepare a conducive environment for learning with safety, love and care where they can construct their own knowledge.

Krishnamurti has said that comparing a dull student to a cleverer one is cruelty. In my own school experiences, comparison was rampant. But according to Krishnamurti, this only causes fear in students. It is the barrier to a clear understanding of oneself and life.

My hopes

I have started on this journey with a lot of hopes, with courage and determination. Fears exist but I am ready to face them and turn the shortcomings into opportunities of learning. With an attitude of a lifelong learner, I hope and strongly believe that I will be able to put effort and succeed.

With the help of this programme and my mentors, I hope to learn all the things which will help me to become a good teacher. I hope that I learn to see learning in its wholesomeness. I feel that integrated learning is required for the complete growth and development of a child, not its division in fragments and individual subjects. I hope that, as a teacher, I can create and maintain the curiosity of children to enquire and learn joyfully.

All in all, I hope I can become an educator who can touch the lives of my children in positive, constructive way.

Meenakshi is a student of PGDLT at IAAT

 


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SDMC Diaries: To dream or not to dream

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by Varun Gupta

During a class on the theme of ‘Me and My Family’, I had a discussion with the children about their life’s aspirations, their wishes and dreams. Almost half of the children gave the following responses.

“मैं अपने परिवार को खुश रखना चाहता हूँ”

“मैं अपने भाई को रिमोट कण्ट्रोल कार देना चाहता हूँ पर मेरे पास पैसे नहीं है”

“मैं अपनी मम्मी से कभी दूर नहीं जाना चाहता”

“मुझे मम्मी को, पापा को खुश रखना है”

“बहन को खुश रखना है, पूरे परिवार को खुश रखना है”

“मुझे एक बड़ा सा घर चाहिए, ताकि मैं और मम्मी-पापा और बहन उस घर में रह सकें”

“अपने बहन-भाइयों, मम्मी के लिए घर खरीदना है ǀ उनको खुश रखना है”

I am quite perplexed by these answers. It makes me feel both happy and sad. Happy because it shows how much love and concern they have for their parents and siblings. But it makes me sadder because they didn’t speak of any aspirations or dreams for themselves. They talked of the happiness and wellbeing of their families. But they wouldn’t say what they want from life, what they aspire to be. Maybe it just so happened that they were not able to articulate their dreams and wishes clearly. Or maybe they do see their happiness in terms of their family’s happiness.

I understand that at this young age, their aspirations might not have taken any concrete shape and so they didn’t have much to say about it. But even when I asked them what they wanted to have, what they wanted to purchase or to play with, there was no reply. I was baffled by this silence. Why don’t they want to have anything? Children usually do. Does it have something to do with the condition at home which inhibits their growth, development, dreams? Is it the harsh daily reality they are exposed to which does not accommodate or allow dreams to flourish?

I can understand that life can sometimes be too harsh or unfair. But can life ever be so discouraging that we stop dreaming? I am thinking of that magical thing which makes people believe in dreams, encourages them to pursue their aspirations, and makes them believe in the power of sincere hard work and determination that helps us achieve anything. Is it that there aren’t enough success stories or role models in society which can keep alive these dreams? Or do we get entangled in the question of ‘how’ so as to forget to dream about the ‘what’?

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I have come to realise that aspirations, dreams and hope make up the oil which keeps the light burning in our lives. In this context, as parents, we have a huge responsibility to encourage our children to keep dreaming, to care for their dreams and aspirations, and to provide strength and support to them so these can be fulfilled. Parents’ love, affection and trust work like tonic for children. Their words can either make or break the child’s confidence and ability to dream. Sometimes, we become so habitual in catching them doing something bad that we forget to see their goodness, we forget to take note of the special things they are able to do.

The same may be the case of teachers and adults in society. As a teacher, I need to look more into this, make space for their dreams, and take the required steps to see their aspirations accomplished. We need to nurture and sustain these dreams, we need to help everyone believe that they can fly, can do anything, can become as they wish.

Varun is an IAAT PGDLT Fellow currently working at the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, Hauz Khas Police Colony School


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New beginnings

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It wasn’t merely the Resident Teachers who had an experience of a lifetime during the retreat that started off the PGDLT programme. A new member of the IAAT team shares of the profound inner journey that the retreat initiated.

Put a group of aspiring educators together in the middle of wilderness, throw them into extraordinary adventures, make them reflect on their experiences collectively – and can you hope to create some kind of magic? The third batch of IAAT might have anticipated less as they set off on the first leg of their yearlong journey as learners of learning with a five-day retreat this June, but for many, it proved to be a powerful journey into the self, a chance for self-exploration and self-transformation unlike anything they’d experienced before. They may have entered the program as aspiring educators, but found themselves confronted with the enormous challenge of knowing oneself and changing from within.

What place does this kind of inner work have for people looking into teaching as a career? The biggest takeaway for many student teachers, as well as for new members of the IAAT team like myself, was that if we want to truly make a difference in the lives of children as educators, we must first know and understand ourselves better. The self has long been neglected in educational and professional spaces to the extent that we have started to believe that it is dispensable. And while this may allow for greater efficiency and practicality, it has also stolen from us some of our greatest gifts – joy, love, clarity, purpose – which make life beautiful and meaningful.

Somewhere along the way, it became evident for us that our own lives cannot be shrouded in darkness, unhappiness and confusion if we hope to provide an environment where children can access life’s gifts and flourish as human beings. And similarly, we cannot hope to make good teachers if we do not want to be learners ourselves. But is it too late for us as adults to take that initiative, to change our way of engaging with life, to become learners again? These were some of the concerns and anxieties that played themselves out over the course of the retreat. But our thought hurdles were put to rest as we immersed ourselves in experience after experience that showed us that it is actually never too late to begin learning.

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The program of the retreat began by pushing us beyond the limits we’ve grown to set on ourselves. It was tantalising to see how different fear felt now that we were getting closer to it, exploring it and challenging it. We breathed fear as we looked over the edge into the precipice before hurtling down rocks, we nestled fear to sleep in the cold, all alone, as the emptiness of the sky engulfed our bodies and beings, and we hung fear on baited breaths as our feet glided over glowing embers. We touched fear with our hands and feet, tasted it with our mouths, and as we embraced it, it became clear that fear is a generous friend rather than a hostile enemy. It got some of us contemplating on how, as adults, we are protective of the children in our care, depriving them of experiences in the fear that they might be harmed.

I think it helped us all to be part of a group facing our fears together. The physical challenges we went through unleashed our emotional baggage as well. Before we’d set off on the retreat, we’d taken a pledge to be non-judgemental and although it was an incredibly hard thing to follow through, it also provided an atmosphere of safety that allowed us to take risks, be open, vulnerable and honest. Set free of that old and festering fear of being judged by others, we spoke freely with one another. Many of us felt cleansed by the end of the retreat, ready to own up to the emotions inside us, and also better able to connect with those around us at an emotional level. In less than a week, the group became a supportive and nurturing community that shared love and compassion, encouraged and inspired, aided and healed.

We moved from a state of doubt about our own abilities to a willingness to take initiative and plunge into action. Like others around me, I was surprised by just how proactive I could become. During a reflection session around leadership, it became clear to me the importance of taking leadership of one’s own life. We were learning that each one of us could be leaders, taking charge of our lives and heading in a purposeful direction of our choice.

Now back in our classroom, and in the more ordinary rut of everyday life, the self that we encountered in that week of retreat becomes a guiding light that tells us to give more to life and seek more from life. It becomes more important than ever to relate that deeply personal and introspective experience of the retreat to our experience in the classroom and to our aspiration as educators. This may come in the form of pushing ourselves into “I can” when the mind says “I can’t”, of questioning our assumptions and widening our perspective, of supporting others and seeking help from them, and of being open to learn from the richness of the experiences that life offers us. As long as we are learning, moving, constantly growing, we can be assured that we will make good educators.

Ayushma Regmi, Teaching Associate, I Am A Teacher


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Pushes and Pulls – Stone and Feather can co-exist

In the words of Langston Hughes

What happens to dream deferred?
Does it dry up?
Like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore
And then run
Does it stink like a rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
Like a syrupy sweet?
May be it just sags
Like a heavy load
Or does it explode?

I have dreams, I had dreams. From the moment we are born, we’ve been pushed and pulled. Pushed into the unknown and pulled out of the known. Later pushed into the known and pulled from the unknown. Predictability and uncertainty becomes something to fear. We are told what decisions are good and bad. We have no choice; our only path is to follow someone, try to avoid mistakes already made but in the end we will replace someone, we will sit where he sits, we will do what he did and we will be replaced just the way he was. And we believe that to change something is already too late; the only option left for us it to escape.

I did escape. My path so far hasn’t been any different yet it did make a difference. When I look back at the path, albeit short, I have traversed so far I realize that it was pathless. I had to carve for myself. Arrogant and optimistic then, I was told to embrace certainty. I felt heavy like the stone! I questioned its being. I weighed its pain and I escaped. I ran as far as I could only to realize that I didn’t move. Life is predictable just like the existence of this stone.

But I chose to take unknown turns and cross uncharted territories. You ask, wasn’t I petrified? Hell yes! I was scared. Afraid of the endless tunnel. Horrified of the bottomless spit. Yes, I was frustrated and I wanted to explode. I did explode. Not once but many times. I felt the heaviness.

My intuitions drove me. The meaning of ‘the call’ became clearer with time. It happened in 2011 when the opportunity to teach landed. I was apprehensive to accept the responsibility. Thirty pair of eyes staring at you! Gosh it was scary. There were instances when I broke down. Challenging, but it was an onset of a journey. Soon, there came a point where I felt the need to shed old feathers and grow new ones. The need to take a flight was felt by me. Just at that time ‘I AM A TEACHER’ happened. And even now my intuitions guided me.

Fearless, I took the flight to explore and discover. You ask what? There is a lot. You ask me when and how? It is happening now.

It isn’t that we don’t have a choice. We do. The choice isn’t between this that, either or, less more, fill pour. You ask who decides? You, I, We.

Pallavi Sharma, Alumnus, I Am A Teacher


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The Magic of the WEB

It had been 2 weeks since the beginning of the new session for the children. The transition, I felt, seemed smooth since they had not been shuffled. We were actually supposed to play this game in the first week after the session began but just helping the kids feel comfortable with the new class and new teachers took time.

Last week, since there was so much familiarity among the kids, they began to complain a lot about each other. So we decided, this was the time to help them connect with each other. Also, we had started to talk about being responsible for our own books, pencils, tables & chairs, etc.

We, my partner and I, moved all the tables and chairs to one side, sat down on the floor with the children in a circle and first waited for them to settle. Then, the teacher showed them the ball of wool and said,”We will be playing a little game today. We have been talking about this class as a family, so let’s see how we can all be connected.” She then went on to explain the rules to the children. “I will begin by throwing this ball of wool towards someone while holding one end of it and before I throw it, I will take a pledge. I will be responsible for one thing, be it in school or at home and will take care of that thing always and try not to break my pledge.”

The children were anxious and restless, awaiting their turns. The teacher held one end of the wool, took her pledge and threw the ball of wool to me. I, in turn, took my pledge, looped the string on my finger and passed on the wool to a student. This went on, of course not smoothly as the kids would keep raising their hands or prompting their friends to throw the ball to them. After 5-7 passes, they began to see the magic. The web was taking shape and the children let out gasps and “wows!!”.

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It was surprising to hear the pledges they took. Some pledged to care for their younger siblings, while some pledged to care for their books. Some for their plants at home and some for their pets. Of course, parents, teachers and friends too were mentioned, but just to think of something like this, a responsibility like this at such a young age, I was amazed! We really do underestimate kids now-a-days.

The web got more complex but the children seemed more settled & calm and somehow, the vibes too of the class felt very positive. It was like we had just finished a very sacred and calming session of MPL (Mindful Personal Leadership).

Megha Jobanputra, Alumnus, I Am A Teacher


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Decoding Impossible

Muhammad Ali

The fear of inadequacy of your own self is what it makes things impossible. But is the fear based on incomplete realisation of self or just the fear of failure. If we have fear of failure but have never failed then how can we fear it and we have failed, then why fear it. Shouldn’t the failure be in itself be the spirit to work towards; turning it around and conquering that fear.

So what is impossible? Is it an attitude based on some unfounded fears? Why is impossible a huge hurdle that all billions of us have faced sometime or other and most of us have acknowledged it as well!

The setting and timing however are intangible items that are far more real than a complex mesh of mindset. We cannot have robots sitting in Mercury today. In today’s timing, it is an impossible task to achieve this mission even in the next 5 years. A grade 5 child in remote part of the country cannot read Grade 2 text. To have him learn calculus in the next 2 years is impossible. So is it really just a mindset problem?

To claim it to be possible maybe a very egalitarian  and optimistic view point but to make it possible needs reform in the structure which in some cases may not see light in his/her lifetime. So isn’t their claim of task being impossible real? It could be temporary in the large scheme of things when plotted over millions of people and their lives but for that child it is real.

Does that imply that, “Impossible is nothing” is like a speck in the cloud of motivational dust, perhaps like the pole star in the milky way that can provide direction for some and for some it’s a mere a bright star!

Sunayna Uberoy, Alumnus, I Am A Teacher


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My view on Literacy

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Image from Rory Cellan

While working with children of Grade 7, I understood the need for them to engage in literacy not just via the traditional pen and paper but also through digital media. Lets face it – our children are digital natives. They engage with technology more readily and with far more enthusiasm. In return, it helps them build creativity, imagination and visual recall.

Technology may be an essential element of new age literacy, however after being in the classrooms and looking at the learning trends for children, I firmly believe that writing is still a core need for learning and a step towards higher standard of literacy. With writing, children not only gain an in depth understanding of the concept but are also able to articulate with precision. During assessments children who were in the habit of writing were able to present their answers much better and their understanding of the concepts was also more visible. This habit will definitely be an advantage in this era of globalization, where proper communication is a necessity when dealing with culturally and linguistically diverse groups.

Sadly, with shorthand and acronyms from social media spilling over into daily usage, it is the quality of written content that is suffering. Not only has our spoken language been “chutneyfied” as put by linguist Rita Kothari but even the written is being crucified. It is fashionable now to write Hindi in English, to punctuate with smileys instead of full stops, and to be pithy rather than precise. What is disturbing about this trend is the impact even on non-verbal communication. Just the other day, I overheard two children sharing a joke which culminated into an utterance of “LOL”. There was no trace of a smile on their faces. Emotional responses are getting acronymized along with the language.

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Image from xkcd

In this light, I would argue that we cannot lose sight of the 3Rs (Reading, Writing, Arithmetic) in the journey towards the 4Es (Engage, Explore, Explain, Evaluate). An emphasis on language would not be misplaced keeping in mind the constant onslaught of short form digital content. It is only by developing the habit of reading and writing that we can nurture articulate and effective communicators. The 21st century skills (critical thinking, problem solving, reasoning, analysis, interpretation, synthesizing information) cannot be gained without building a strong foundation of literacy.

Sunayna Uberoy, Alumnus, I Am A Teacher